We had a pleasant 3 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland. When we arrived in New Zealand we were surprised at their very strict customs. There were large signs up about getting a $400 fine for bringing in any fruit, vegetables or seeds. So I was very careful on the form to declare everything. I had to declare that we had been at a farm and touched animals (koala and kangaroo), I had to declare that we had running shoes with us that we used for hiking in another country, I had to declare that we had bathing suits we used at a beach (these were actually options on the form). I declared that I was traveling with granola bars, cinnamon, chia seeds, roasted nuts, salt and pepper. I had to explain what chia seeds were and had to clarify that our pepper was already ground. After all of that, they put all of our bags through a scanner and we got pulled over. They pulled Blake’s suitcase to the side and asked if we had any types of balls in that bag. Confused, we had to list all of the very essential balls that Blake is travelling with – a dart football, a squishy ball, a beach skimmer ball and 2 hacky sacks. We then had to fish out his hacky sacks and they were examined. She said if they had millet in them, we would have been charged and they would be confiscated. Luckily they are not millet and we were able to keep them. Blake brings at least one of these toys with him on every excursion so he was relieved. I think that was actually more stressful than when we got pulled over and sniffed by a dog at the airport when we arrived in Australia.
We rented an awesome house in Auckland through Airbnb. I LOVE Airbnb. This home was so great because it was actually a home where people lived so it had a great kitchen, a veggie garden, plants and even fish. We took an Uber downtown for New Years Eve. We got dropped off at a little square with a DJ playing and bean bag chairs. We hung out there a while, excited about this new city and surrounded by restaurants. Jaida was getting hungry so we ventured out to select a restaurant to eat at. For some reason, we walked away from that area and wandered around for about an hour trying to find a place to eat. We picked several restaurants but found out they were booked up for the night or they had some expensive all you can eat buffet that we did not want. We were getting frustrated – we even considered getting McDonalds as it seemed our only option. But we resisted and moved on and ended up at a funky restaurant (right beside the bean bag chairs). It was exactly what we were looking for. We met another traveling family who had moved to New Caledonia from France. Jaida used her French skills to converse with the young daughter. When we told them we are from Vancouver we got the usual reaction of envy as people seem to think very highly of Vancouver. We enjoyed our dinner and drinks and headed home to watch the kids new favourite show Flight of the Conchords while we waited for the countdown.
Blake and I went for a run one morning to the peak of one of Auckland’s 52 volcanoes. From the top, you can see the landscape of Auckland does indeed contain so many green grassy peaks that were once volcanoes. Every neighbourhood has it’s own volcano. We later went as a family to hike to the top of the biggest one called Mount Eden. At the top, we were able to walk around the edge of the large grassy crater. We were not allowed to run down into the crater but it was tempting.
We drove to Piha Beach on the west coast of the north island of New Zealand. Blake felt carsick on the very windy roads to get there. But it was well worth the trek.
I had read in a travel guide that this is a beautiful beach with a hippie vibe and great coffee shops. I did not know that there is a life guard TV show from this beach because it has so many rescues each year. When the tide is in, there is an incredibly dangerous rip tide. Lucky for us, the tide was out when we arrived so we played at the beach for hours. The black sand was so soft and there was a large area with small pools. The huge rock formations gave this beach a stunning landscape. Blake and Christian swear they saw a little shark in the water and immediately after they saw it, another tourist ran from the water because he also saw it. The life guard confirmed the area has sharks occasionally. I later made the mistake and looked this up – yes, this was a dangerous beach.
Hot Water Beach
The 3 hour drive from Auckland to Hot Water beach was beautiful. It was another windy road down to the beach with plenty of Wheki trees which gave it a very tropical feel. We had to plan our trip to this particular beach around the low tide. We arrived a wee bit ahead of schedule and therefore ahead of the crowds. We ate lunch, rented a spade and lathered up for the beach.
At the hot water beach, hundreds of people worked at building their own natural hot tub. The trick was to get close to a hot spring but not too close because it is way too hot. We lucked out and met some very friendly ladies that told us exactly where to dig to share the hot spring they had. We dug a perfect little hole for our family to lay in together. Christian got the hottest spot next to the spring and every once in a while he would lift his legs to let more hot water flow into the spot where I was, then I did the same and it warmed up Jaida and Blake.
When we got too hot, we jumped in the ocean. The ocean water was perfectly warm, the waves were just big enough to be fun and the laughter was abundant. Similar to Australia, there are flags that you have to swim in between at the beach which really isn’t a very large space. We watched the rescue crew driving their boat out to some people that were not within the flags. We weren’t quite sure if they were just warning them to move into the safe zone of if they were being rescued. I later looked up that beach and apparently it is the most dangerous beach in New Zealand (with Piha being second).
Tauranga / Mount Maunganui
One of my goals for this trip was to try traveling without planning so much. We are away for 54 nights – I got a little carried away and planned 52 of those nights before we left (I love planning). So, we got to fly by the seat of our pants for 2 nights. The day before we left our place in Auckland, we started looking into places for the next night. There was one option on Airbnb, there were NO options at hotels or motels in the areas that we wanted to go to (and that passed Christian’s earth quake / tsunami safe criteria). I tried booking an Airbnb but it wasn’t an instant book and we didn’t get a confirmation. Just before we left in the morning, we didn’t hear back from the Airbnb so we booked the only hotel we could find in Tauranga (safe zone). But it only had beds for 3 people so Blake volunteered to sleep on the floor. We thought ourselves lucky as this place was just under our nightly budgeted goal but upon arrival, they charged us an extra $25 / night for Blake to sleep on the floor.
We were shocked by the smell of our little hotel room – we couldn’t quite figure out if it was mould or pee or fresh caulking (the bathroom looked like it was patched up to cover the mildew) or a combination of the above. Either way, it was a strong stench. I usually take great pleasure in keeping a very tidy holiday home (hotels, motels, campsites, Airbnbs) but with this place I just let the mess happen. It seemed too gross to keep clean!
Mount Maunganui is a lovely little peninsula in the Bay of Plenty with blue green beaches along each side and it is tipped with a lush green … you guessed it … volcano. The area has several restaurants and gift shops and has a high risk of a tsunami. Of course this is something that Christian researched extensively before we went to this area so we weren’t surprised to see signs on every block showing their evacuation plan – which we already knew.
There is a walking trail that winds to the top of Mount Maunganui with views from every side. There was a large tropical storm the day we were there but we went early enough to miss the winds and torrential rains during our hike. Unfortunately the views were intermittent but incredible. I wish we got a killer shot of the view but it didn’t work out so you can see just a glimpse of it in our photos. We did get to experience the storm later in the day and on our way to dinner.